Florida Cracks Down On Phony Docs

medical privacy, Doctor holds folder with patient's records, on texture AP

Zoraida Cabana's office may have looked like a legitimate dentist's office, but, as CBS News Correspondent Jim Acosta reports, the black market dentist was actually practicing without a license inside a garage that was anything but sterile.

State health department investigators, who wished to remain anonymous, warn that medical impostors often put up a good front.

"This lady had a pet squirrel that had free run of the entire garage," says and undercover agent with the Florida Department of Health. "I mean we saw him urinate on some of the instruments at one point."

When Paola Abrantes visited Cabana's upscale home for a loose filling, she was told she needed a root canal. Within days, she was raced to the emergency room with a potentially lethal infection.

"They wear a white lab coat - you know if it quacks like a duck, it's a duck," says Abrantes, adding that she was convinced Cabana was a licensed practitioner. "She didn't care at that time that she could have killed me."

Some bogus dentists have gone mobile with "have drill will travel" toolboxes. Others are more unique, choosing to travel with coolers.

"For some of these patients it can be life-threatening, and it has been," says Dr. Arthur Diskin, of Mt. Sinai Medical Center.

Diskin believes unlicensed practices are fueled by the health care crisis.

"With the cost of medical and dental care, a lot of people are looking for less-expensive alternatives," he says.

While some patients who seek out black market dentists and doctors are short on money and insurance, others have plenty of both but are betrayed by their own vanity.

Patricia Blanchette was lured by a phony cure for wrinkles peddled by a phony nurse.

Then, when she developed a lump in her cheek, doctors thought it was a cancerous tumor until they discovered the nurse's treatment was actually a wax injection.

"I'm an educated, professional person, and I should have known better, and I didn't," says Blanchette. "I was frantic, I really thought I was going to die."

Her practitioner fled the country.

So did another fugitive, Marcellino D'Mata, whose Miami office offered trips to his Caribbean office for breast implants, a procedure that traumatized at least one patient.

This particular patient raised her arm in the shower and one of the implants fell out onto the floor.

These horror stories have Florida health investigators opening new offices throughout the state and assisting other states in setting up their own task forces to stop impostors from "playing doctor."
  • Jaime Holguin

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